Different Types of Child Custody in CA

If you go through a divorce or legal separation involving kids, child custody will be one of the most important aspects of your case, according to the knowledgeable divorce lawyers in San Diego from Boyd Law. The courts in California determine child custody based on what is in the child’s best interests. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. California Family Code Sections 3000–3007 list different types of child custody arrangements that may be chosen based on the family’s needs and circumstances.

Physical Custody

There are two types of child custody: physical and legal. Physical custody refers to where the child is physically residing, such as which house the child is living in and what parent has the child under his or her roof. Physical custody grants a parent the right to have the child overnight, either year-round or for a certain number of nights per year. 

Legal Custody

Legal custody is the parental right and responsibility to make important decisions on behalf of a minor child. It refers to which parent has the right to make key decisions about the child’s health, religion, education and welfare. If the child needs medical care, for example, the parent(s) with legal custody will have the right to determine what type of care the child receives.

Joint Custody

When it comes to assigning physical and/or legal custody to two parents in a divorce case, the courts have a variety of options to choose from. A judge has the right to assign any custody arrangement deemed suitable for the needs and interests of the child involved. State law identifies two main arrangements: joint and sole custody.

Joint custody means that both parents share the right and responsibility to make decisions and/or have physical custody of a child. Joint custody can refer to joint physical custody, joint legal custody or both. If two parents share joint physical custody, they will both have the right to significant periods of physical care of the child. This is also referred to as frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

Joint legal custody means that both parents have the right to make decisions relating to the child’s health, education and welfare. If the parents cannot agree on these decisions, the issue may be taken to court for a judge to decide. Joint custody arrangements are the most common in California, as the courts generally hold that a child does better by remaining in contact with both parents after a divorce.

Sole Custody

In some cases, the courts will grant sole physical and/or legal custody of a child to only one parent. A sole custody arrangement gives one parent the exclusive right to have the child overnight and/or make important decisions regarding the child’s life. It is most common for a sole custody arrangement to give both physical and legal custody to the same parent.


With a sole physical custody arrangement, the courts have the power to order visitation for the noncustodial parent. Visitation is the right to visit with a child for a certain amount of time, either supervised or unsupervised. Sole custody with visitation may be chosen over joint custody if one parent poses a potential risk to the child, such as a history of substance abuse or child neglect.

How Is Custody Decided in California?

The vast majority of child custody cases in California end in joint custody arrangements. The courts prefer to allow both parents to remain involved in the child’s life after a divorce or legal separation. However, if the courts believe that shared physical and/or legal custody could risk a child’s well-being, they may order sole custody. The best interests of the child are always at the forefront of a court custody decision in California. For more information about the different types of child custody arrangements available, contact a San Diego child custody lawyer.